National Public Lands Report, April 2002

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by Adena Cook,
BRC Public Lands Director

WESTERN CAUCUS LEADERS CALL FOR CREDIBILITY & SOUND SCIENCE OVER POLITICAL ACTIVISM IN FEDERAL AGENCIES

On March 6, 2002, the House Resources Committee held an oversight hearing on the Canadian Lynx Interagency National Survey and Endangered Species Collection. The hearing focused on a report from the General Accounting Office regarding the unauthorized submission of samples by several federal and state biologists for analysis as a part of an ongoing nationwide survey of Canadian Lynx. The General Accounting Office's report found that the biologists had exercised poor judgment, but their actions were not criminal.

According to Western Caucus Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-CA), "Rural America has been forced to grow accustomed to environmental activism prevailing over the rule of law. The planting of Canadian Lynx hair is only the latest example. The Department of the Interior's own Inspector General has stated that those involved showed "a pattern of bad judgment, an absence of scientific rigor and several troubling policy issues" and went on to say that the claims of the Fish and Wildlife Service biologists involved "stretch credulity." And what was the penalty for such behavior, termination?... prosecution? Hardly, they were given praise and bonuses! Apparently, fraud is rewarded at FWS. While the Department of Agriculture has so far remained silent on the issue, this hearing will serve as a desperately needed forum to assist in ridding ourselves of those who have destroyed the faith placed in government agencies. This is the perfect example of putting political science ahead of sound science, and I intend to remain engaged on this issue until our federal land policies are conducted in an honest and dignified manner.

"It appears that our environmental regulatory agencies could use an Honesty Czar," said Congressman John Peterson (R-PA). "There is something frightfully wrong when federal officials are rewarded for committing fraud and corrupting a study which affects thousands of communities. Unfortunately, this attitude is indicative of the disdain for rural America that is rampant in many of our federal agencies. While we must act as responsible stewards over our precious natural resources, we can not allow our federal officials to throw away science and truth in order to advance their political agenda."

According to Congressman George Radanovich (R-CA), "The actions taken by the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service biologists serve to destroy public faith in federal land agencies. These biologists, driven and ruled by environmental activism, have assaulted rural America by mocking science. I will work with Western Caucus members to restore credibility to the Forest Service and to the Fish and Wildlife Service and ensure that our federal agencies are focused on their core mission to protect our public lands."

"These people are key players in decisions regarding endangered species that impact thousands of miles of water, millions of acres of land and the economies of entire regions of this country," said Forests and Forest Health Subcommittee Chairman Scott McInnis (R-CO). "If biologists can commit blatant fraud and get rewarded, what's to protect the American people from politically motivated land management decisions that completely change how they can live their lives? We must ensure that both integrity and sound science are part of our management of endangered species."

"The fact that these renegade researchers were treated with such leniency at the outset of the entire affair was, to say the least, troubling," said Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO/6). "To now find out that these researchers were subsequently rewarded with a cash bonus for their participation in this biofraud simply defies common sense."

The hearing was called in response to a recent U.S. Forest Service finding that seven officials from the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife planted false hair samples from the Canadian Lynx in the Gifford Pinchot and Wenatchee National Forests in Washington state. The Canadian Lynx is classified as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Western Caucus leaders immediately called on Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman to review the potential criminal violations, and terminate all of the federal officials who knowingly and willingly submitted unauthorized samples.


EQUESTRIANS UNDER FIRE IN ILLINOIS, NORTH CAROLINA & PENNSYLVANIA

Closures and unreasonable restrictions are plaguing equestrians in three states: Illinois, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. In Illinois, the Shawnee National Forest just completed the comment phase on the Natural Area Trails Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The document is generally biased against equestrian use and contains numerous errors. For example, it estimates the cost of maintaining 28 miles of trail will be $223,250 per year or approximately $8,000 per mile. The average annual level two maintenance on a trail should be around $100 per mile.

Natural areas in Illinois are designated by the state to be maintained in a pristine condition. Within the Shawnee, they are administered by the National Forest under a prescription more restrictive than designated Wilderness. Previous decisions have established that trails must be designated in natural areas in order to be maintained. However, the Forest has not designated any trails in the 81 natural areas. The DEIS evaluated designating trails in only 7 of the areas, and its proposed alternative identified only 28 miles for designation. The equestrian community could not support any of the alternatives and is requesting that the document be re-done.

Equestrian recreation is very important to Southern Illinois where many campgrounds catering to horses are located. The Illinois horse industry produces goods and services valued at $1.3 billion, and there are 77,000 horse owners in the state. There are 219,000 horses in Illinois, 70 percent of which are involved in showing and recreation.

In North Carolina, equestrians and mountain bikers appealed a decision by the Pisgah National Forest to close 34 old logging roads to their use. The decision rationale claimed that the closure was necessary to maintain "linear wildlife openings" for wildlife, apparently finding that access by horses and mountain bikes was incompatible with this objective. Mountain bikers and equestrians state that this decision is not based on good science and is discriminatory.

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Council, a coalition of sportsman's groups, supported the closures. The Council also appealed the decision on the grounds that the Forest Service did not go far enough. The agency only closed 34 of the 42 roads originally considered in the analysis.

In Pennsylvania, equestrians are challenging seasonal closures in state forests. The Pennsylvania Game Commission advocates closure of state forests to horses in the spring and summer, leaving only the coldest and hottest months open for recreation.

--Adena Cook is Public Lands Director for the BlueRibbon Coalition. For questions or comments on this article, or on other Public Lands issues, she may be contacted at: BlueRibbon Coalition, P.O. Box 1427, Idaho Falls, ID, 83403. Phone: 208-524-3062, Fax:524-2836. Email bradena@sharetrails.org.

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